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UK says China targeted 'democratic institutions' in cyber campaign

LONDON, United Kingdom — The UK on Monday accused Beijing-backed groups of targeting "democratic institutions and parliamentarians" in two "malicious" cyber campaigns, unveiling sanctions and summoning China's ambassador.

With Britain expected to hold a general election within months, London detailed attacks in 2021 and 2022 that targeted the Electoral Commission and UK parliamentary accounts, including those of lawmakers critical of China.

"Chinese state-affiliated actors were responsible for two malicious cyber campaigns targeting both our democratic institutions and parliamentarians," Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told members of parliament.

He said that both campaigns, while a "real and serious threat", were ultimately thwarted.

Dowden said an unnamed "Chinese state-affiliated entity" likely "compromised" UK Electoral Commission systems, but he insisted election security was not affected.

"It will not impact how people register, vote or otherwise participate in democratic processes," he said.

Parliament's cybersecurity measures blocked a second campaign, against lawmakers, many of whom are critical of Beijing, he added.

Two individuals and one company linked to the Chinese-backed group suspected of orchestrating the campaign -- APT31 -- have been hit with sanctions over the latter case.

The Chinese ambassador to London has been summoned "to account for China's conduct", Dowden said.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, one of the targeted lawmakers, said Beijing should be labelled a threat to the UK.

He was one of several UK MPs sanctioned by China in 2021 because of  criticisms of human rights abuses against China's Uyghur minority and in Hong Kong.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian on Monday insisted Beijing had been "resolute" in tackling "all kinds of malicious cyber-activities".

"The issue of tracing cyber-attacks is highly complex and sensitive," he added.

"When investigating and determining the nature of cyber-incidents, there should be ample objective evidence, instead of smearing other countries without factual basis" he said.

In recent years, Western nations have become increasingly willing to expose foreign cyber operations, and